The fault in our tactics: Chelsea’s revival under Conte
Mourinho is sacked, again. Chelsea fans feel betrayed, again. Abramovic is irate, again. It’s as if Chelsea would have to pick themselves up & dust themselves off after Mourinho performs his traditional disappearing act once more. Guus Hiddink did his best in his ‘cool Grandpa’ role, allowing Chelsea fans to enjoy football once more without offering any long-term security. Alas, Hiddink wasn’t any more than a stopgap coach, as Chelsea’s board scoured long and hard to make sure their next manager would be everything their Portuguese precursor wasn’t; firm, fascinating & above all, faithful. They wanted a man who could get Chelsea back on its feet & there’s no better man at repairing damaged clubs than football’s own Italian stallion; Antonio Conte.
It is also claimed that Jorge Sampaoli was the front-runner for some time but ultimately the Stamford Bridge hierarchy had concerns over the Argentine’s ability to speak English & his longevity, the latter reason of which was a correct cause for concern, as Sampaoli left his post as Sevilla manager after less than a year in charge to become Argentina’s new coach (which is partly understandable as not many would turn down the chance to work with players such as Lionel Messi).
It is fair to say Antonio Conte impressed many Chelsea fans during his first press conference as manager, particularly with his statement on how ‘the coach is like a tailor,’ And that, ‘A tailor who must build a dress, the best dress for the team.’ His ideas on how it must become ‘his’ Chelsea & that the ghosts of Mourinho must be exercised from the club’s soul before they can move on. Interestingly enough that when he was quizzed on using a back three, he simply stated that he had to test his squad first before deciding.
The season begins and Chelsea have a rocky start; winning 3, drawing 1 & losing 2 of their first 6 games. The 3-0 defeat at the Emirates to Arsenal was particular damming though, as it caused Conte to thoroughly transform his tactical approach. From then on, Antonio Conte went back to his roots (if you will) & deploy a 3-4-3 which utterly blew the rest of the division out the water. This caused a league record 13 straight wins to occur in the process. During that run, there are five games in particular that I felt were pivotal moments in Chelsea’s season & I will explain why with a brief description here followed by a tactical analysis provided for each game in due course:
Hull 0-2 Chelsea
The game that started the winning run foreshadowed how effective the 3-4-3 can be despite the fact that it still had a few faults to be resolved.
Chelsea 4-0 Manchester United
Mourinho’s homecoming was well & truly ruined. Conte’s 3-4-3 worked wonders again as United were simply blown away by the speed Chelsea played at. An early goal from Pedro set the tone.
Chelsea 5-0 Everton
Everton were left embarrassed at the final whistle. Ronald Koeman attempted to match Chelsea by also deploying 3 central defenders but to no avail, Chelsea dominated & could’ve easily scored more had they been merciless.
Manchester City 1-3 Chelsea
This was the earliest sign that Chelsea were on their way to the title. An open goal miss from Kevin De Bruyne cost his team the chance to be well & truly in control of the game. Without being as convincing as they had been before, Chelsea left Manchester with 3 points. Coming up with the goods without playing well is a true hallmark of champions.
Chelsea 4-2 Stoke City
The gaps in the 3-4-3 were starting to widen as teams began to slowly but surely work it out. Stoke managed to draw level twice in the game before eventually being overcome.
The 3-4-3 has proven to be largely effective because it has barely been used in England leading to the system’s downfalls remaining partly unearthed although it isn’t invincible. It will be interesting to see how Conte approaches the Champions League & Premier League season. Whether he uses a variant of his 3 at the back system remains to be seen but knowing Conte, there will always be a masterstroke brewing in the back of his mind.